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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Sonata No. 1 in f for clarinet and piano, Op. 120 No. 1 (1894) [21.52]
Sonata No. 2 in Eb for clarinet and piano, Op. 120 No. 2 (1894) [19.45]
Trio in a for clarinet, piano and cello, Op 114 (1891) [24.33]
Martin Fröst (clarinet); Roland Pöntinen (piano); Torlief Thedéen (cello)
rec. June 2004, Nybrokajen 11, former Academy of Music, Stockholm, Sweden.
Notes in English, Deutsch, Français. Photos of artists.
CD tracks, 2.0 stereo. SACD tracks 2.0 stereo and 5.0 surround. Hybrid SACD
BIS SACD 1353 [67.14]


Comparison recordings:
Sonatas: Leopold Wlach, Jörg Demus, [mono ADD] Westminster MVCW 19021
Sonatas: Bela Kovacs, clarinet; Ferenc Rados, piano. Hungaroton HCD 12796
Trio: Trio Bornalie: (Kaiser, Gouton, Saito) HERA 02113 (see my review)
Trio: Trio Gemelli: (Bradbury, Bradbury, Segal) The Divine Art 25009 (see my review)
 
Of the nine occasions when Johannes Brahms set out seriously to write a symphony, only four times did he carry this intention all the way through to publication. On two occasions, Opp. 11 and 21, he published the work as a four movement “Serenade.” The remaining three attempts ended up as, respectively, the Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 10, the Piano Quintet in f, Op. 39 — and this Clarinet Trio, Op. 114. Rumors circulated for years that Brahms “Fifth” Symphony had reached serious sketching stage. Grieg invited Brahms to visit him Norway to complete the Symphony, perhaps thinking that the physical or aesthetic atmosphere in Vienna was somehow preventing Brahms from working. Brahms however refused to travel far from Vienna for any reason, and for whatever reason, the Fifth Symphony never appeared. But when the idea struck him to write a Clarinet Trio, the sketches proved easy to translate, and the reason here is probably not hard to see. Brahms had for some time felt that the future of music lay in greater transparency; the works of Wagner as well as his own symphonies had plumbed to the bottom the depths of orchestral mass. His Double Concerto, intended as the first of a series of works invoking Baroque aesthetics, did not go over well. But a four movement symphony for three instruments worked out just fine.
 
This performance sounds very good until you hear one where the performers have that final bit of breathing-together* intensity of ensemble, that final bit of confidence and gracefulness that only people who play together for decades achieve. Fröst and friends, perhaps encouraged by the power and depth available in SACD sound, go as far as one ought to to try to invoke a symphonic dimension to this work. Soloist Fröst plays loudly throughout often moving into the metallic register of his instrument, as though he were concentrating on filling a large hall with sound. At times they sound not merely dark but heavy, achieving an almost symphonic grandeur consistent with the work’s history. Other recordings I have heard, including the ones listed above, achieve more momentum and buoyancy; they place the microphones closer and allow the soloist to produce a hushed, soft, sweet sound when called for.
 
*None dare call it “conspiracy.”
 
Paul Shoemaker
 

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